Does Your Pet Need Medical Insurance? How to Decide
If you’re a pet owner, it’s a sure bet that you’ve run across the idea of buying pet insurance at least one time or another. And if you’re like most people, you probably thought it sounded good at the time but didn’t look into it because you had a thousand other things competing for your attention.
But the question still remains: should you get pet insurance?
To make it easier to answer that question, we’ve assembled data and advice from leading professionals in their field…veterinary doctors, researchers, and the pet insurance companies themselves. In the paragraphs to follow, you’ll learn why people buy pet insurance, what to look for in pet insurance policies, and even reviews of a few of the leading companies from around the web.
Finally, to sum it all up, you’ll find a handy, short list of questions to ask. So, if you’ve ever thought about getting pet insurance for your beloved four-legged family member, these questions will make it easier to decide whether it’s right for you.
Pet Insurance Isn’t Just About Economics
Deciding whether your pet needs insurance is much more than a financial decision. Sure, budgeting the monthly premium might take a little financial maneuvering at first, but when it comes down to basics, pet insurance is about making tough decisions should your pet become injured or sick.
Take, for example, a dog or cat who suffers a fractured leg. There are two very different outcomes for your pet, depending on how much you can afford or how much you’re willing to afford. Pet owners face the following scenario…
“If they have a fracture that they can’t afford to get stabilized — can’t afford to go to the orthopedic surgeon to plate it — they might choose amputation rather than fix the fracture,” says Dr. Lauren Adams of Emory Animal Hospital.
Pet insurance makes this type of agonizing decision a moot point. Why? Because anyone with insurance will be able to afford the surgeon, allowing their pet to keep his or her leg. The decision is more tortuous for pet owners who do have the money for surgery but who decide they can’t or won’t afford it. They’ll be reminded of that terrible decision every time they watch their 3-legged pet walk into the room.
No pet owner should have to face that type of life-altering decision, and that’s what pet insurance is for. Simply put, it allows you the option of choosing treatment for your pet based on what’s right for him or her, not on what you can afford.
Types of Pet Insurance
Not that every pet owner finds him or herself in such dire straights, as far as making decisions about quality of life for their pet. However, pet insurance isn’t just for major calamities, either. Depending on the plan you choose, it’s also good for:
- inherited conditions
- preventive care
- prescription medications
- dental treatment
- diagnostic testing
In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 75% of pet owners took their pet or pets to the vet in 2011¹ (that’s the latest year for which they have statistics). Not only that, but most dog owners who don’t visit the vet are neglecting the important benefits of preventive care.
Dog Owners: Take Note!
So chances are, if you have a pet, then you’ll be seeing the vet within the next year or two. And if you have a dog, that chance is even greater. In the five years leading up to 2011, the number of visits to the vet for dogs shot up from 119.4 million to 130.4 million¹.
Yet only 5.7% of dog owners had pet insurance. For the uninsured, means of payment typically ends up being a credit card. In retrospect, many of these pet owners find that the price of carrying a credit card balance does not compare favorably to the relatively low cost of pet insurance!
Consider the average cost of common vet bills for dogs:
- dental care: $200 per visit ($0 to $40 with insurance)
- canine cataract: $1,244 ($0 to $248.80 with insurance)
- life-saving surgery: $15,000 ($0 to $500 with insurance)
- ear infection bill: $229.94. ($0 to $46 with insurance)
- repair a broken limb: $350 ($0 to $70 with insurance)
- adult canine wellness visit: $145.60 ($0 to $29.12 with insurance)
Let’s Crunch Some Numbers
With policies starting at $10 and only as high as $65 for deluxe coverage, it’s easy to see how pet insurance makes sense from a purely financial standpoint. Of course, most pet owners choose to insure for peace of mind. It’s rather like having insurance for yourself…you hope you don’t have to use it, but if you do then the knowledge that you’re covered is worth everything…priceless, in fact.
In 2011, the mean dollar amount spent by dog owners on veterinary services was $391 for a household with income between $55,000 and $85,000. For higher-income households, it was $568 per year¹. A mid-range insurance policy would cover that, plus offer options for preventive care (depending on the policy of course) and more. Consider the 1 in 8² pet owners whose bills top the thousand dollar mark and the case for pet insurance seems even stronger.
Furthermore, in 2013-2014, dog owners spent $621 on surgical vet visits for the year. That was on top of routine vet visits, which cost $231 for dog owners³.
If you’re rich, then you can roll the dice. Are you in a position to drop thousands of dollars when your puppy swallows a sock, or your dog develops a cataract? Are you ready to face extremely tough decisions should your pet suffer a serious illness or injury?
What the Vets See
Take it from a doctor’s perspective. NBC News ran a piece on pet insurance recently, and interviewed a vet in Seattle who is co-owner of a critical care and emergency services clinic for pets.
“Some people can’t afford the treatment so they ask us to euthanize their pet. It’s absolutely horrible,” Dr. Maixner says. “If people had acquired pet insurance before the emergency occurred, they might have been able to move forward with some reasonable treatment to help their pet.”
What to Look For
Maybe you’re considering pet insurance, especially if you have a dog. How to find the right policy? Here are a few things to ask when comparison shopping:
- Does the policy cover congenital or hereditary conditions?
- How about pre-existing conditions?
- Can I use any vet/any hospital?
- Is my pet covered while traveling with me?
- Are prescription drugs covered?
- Is dental covered?
- Do I have to pay the vet bill first?
Sadly, most policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions and hereditary conditions. For pure-breed dog owners, this is a hefty consideration. Purebreds, as popular as they are, are more prone to hereditary conditions requiring expensive medical treatment.
We were able to find one pet insurance company that covers hereditary and congenital conditions for the entire lifetime of your dog as standard. That was Petplan Pet Insurance. We’ll compare that with PetPremium, a pet insurance company that caught our eye because it also covers hereditary and congenital conditions, although not as a standard part of their policies.
Drawing from the handy list of questions in the previous section, here’s a closer glimpse of two major brands of pet insurance, Petplan and Petpremium. We’ll take the point of view of a dog owner, but generally their plans are similar for cats.
The table below shows the major categories of insurance coverage. A “checkmark” indicates the coverage is standard and therefore comes with any plan you choose. Otherwise, either it’s not covered or you must choose the higher-cost plans in order to get the benefit.
|Hereditary Conditions||||Premium Level|
|Chronic Conditions||||Ongoing Conditions|
|Congenital Conditions||||Premium Level|
|Alternative Therapies||||Premium Level|
|Routine Wellness Care||Unclear|||
|Deductible Choices||$50, $100, $200||$100, $250, $500|
|Behavioral Treatment||Unclear||Premium Level|
|Illnesses||Illness Exam Fees||Mid and Premium Levels|
|Prescription Medications||||Mid and Premium Levels|
For dog owners who have purebred pets, PetPlan might show a slight advantage because of the standard coverage for congenital conditions. We also like their option to have 100% reimbursement.
On the other hand, for those who want routine wellness care, PetPremium definitely covers it, whereas it’s unclear and therefore probably not an option with PetPlan.
All in all, PetPlan offers more benefits in their basic level plans, since more features are available as standard options. Alternatively, for some pet owners it might be more cost-effective to choose a plan with a higher deductible, which is offered by PetPremium.
As you can see, the choice is clear only when you consider your individual situation, as well as your pet.
¹Source: JAVMA News. “Vital Statistics”. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/130201a.aspx.
²Source: The Associated Press-Petside.com Poll. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from http://ap-gfkpoll.com/uncategorized/ap-petside-com-poll-8-in-10-pet-owners-visited-vet-in-last-year.
³Source: American Pet Products Association. “US Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook”. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from http://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.
4Source: CareCredit. “Popular Treatments & Average Costs”. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from http://www.carecredit.com/vetmed/avgcost/.